Traveling overseas for an extended period of time when you have a green card (permanent residence card) has always been tricky. However, it has become even trickier during the Covid pandemic.

This is the second of a series of blog posts about traveling overseas as a green card holder during Covid. The focus on this post is how long you can stay outside the US, and what to do if you must stay outside the US longer than anticipated.

You Must Maintain Your US Residence

  • If you are outside the US for less than 180 days, you can likely re-enter the US without problems.
  • If you have been outside the US for more than 180 days but less than one year, there is a rebuttable presumption that you may have abandoned your permanent residence. This means that the government may assume that you have abandoned your permanent residence, and you have the burden of proving that you did not.
  • If you have been outside the US for more than one year, the government will likely determine that you have abandoned your permanent residence, unless you took certain steps to preserve it.

How to Preserve Your Permanent Residence

If you anticipate being outside of the US for more than one year, you may file an application for a re-entry permit with USCIS. The re-entry permit will allow you to re-enter the US (as long as it is valid) even if you have been outside the US for more than one year. You must file the re-entry permit application while you are physically present in the US. Likewise, you must have your fingerprints taken here in the US. The biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment may be scheduled a few weeks to a few months after you file the re-entry permit application. A re-entry permit may be valid for up to two years. In addition, it is possible to ask USCIS to send the approved re-entry permit to a US consulate overseas for you to pick up. However, many US consulates have limited services available during the pandemic.

What if You Stay Outside the US for More Than One Year?

If you are a green card holder and you remain outside the US for more than one year, and you have not filed for a re-entry permit, you may have problems re-entering the US. In this situation, the US government generally considers that you have abandoned your permanent residence. USCIS and CBP have not announced a policy change on this in light of the pandemic. If you have had to remain outside the US for more than one year without a valid re-entry permit, you may consider applying for an SB-1 visa. This is also known as a returning resident visa, and you can apply for this at the US consulate abroad.

If You Attempt to Re-Enter After Being Outside the US for More Than One Year:

If you have been outside for more than one year as a green card holder, you should speak with a qualified immigration lawyer before you attempt to re-enter. There is a chance that CBP would ask you to give up your green card. In addition, it is possible that after entering you would receive a Notice to Appear (NTA) in immigration court, to begin removal proceedings against you. If you decide to try to re-enter after being outside for more than one year, you should take documentation such as the following with you:

  • Proof that you tried to timely re-enter the US (cancelled airline tickets, emails, text messages, etc. that show that you intended to return within a year of departure).
  • Proof of government lockdowns due to the virus, or government-imposed travel restrictions.
  • All of your ties to the US: mortgage or rent payments, bank statements, employment letter from your US employer, pay statements from your US employer, US tax returns, US school records, etc.
    • Likewise, if you or a family member became ill while you were overseas, and this prevented you from returning to the US on time, proof of the illness (medical or hospital records).

Finally, please remember that if you were outside of the US for an extended period of time, this may affect your eligibility for naturalization even if it did not negatively impact your permanent residence.

As always, please note that the information above is for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice. If you have questions about returning to the US as a green card holder, you must obtain legal advice.

If you need help navigating the immigration or naturalization process with confidence, please contact us today to get the process underway! We are immigration lawyers in Richmond, VA but we serve clients throughout the US and around the world. You can call us at 804-396-3412 or send us an email at We look forward to hearing from you!

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